Some people know from a young age the occupation they want to have as an adult, while others have to take many roads to lead them to their calling. Joy Fennell experienced the latter; she didn't set her sights on becoming a makeup artists, however it was her calling that she stumbled upon. She packed her bags and moved to New York City, and, since then, has created quite the remarkable portfolio for herself. Fennell has done everything from working New York Fashion Week for top designers including Valentino and Oscar del la Renta to lending her skills behind the scenes of editorials for top magazines like Italian Vogue and V Magazine.
Joy took the time to speak with Pierre Into My Life to discuss her career, the common struggle of comparing herself to others through the eyes of social media, and advice for millennials.
BP: When did you discover you wanted to become a makeup artist?
JF: Well, this story is a little bit all over the place. But, for the most part, it was when I was in college and had one more semester to go and I was kind of over it. Because Ididn’t want to write another paper [because] my brain was fried. I just decided, well, I can’t not do something. I can’t sit on my butt the next semester [because] my mother is going to be like, 'what is going on?’ [But] if I had a job, maybe she would be OK with it. But I sat there and [thought] what do I know how to do? I always used to get compliments on my makeup when I was in school. And one day, I was walking past the MAC counter… Well, what if I did makeup and I worked at the counter? I don’t know how it happened but for some crazy reason, like divine intervention, I went on a quest to become a makeup artist.
Have you ever felt like you’ve made it or was there a time you felt very accomplished?
A time when I feel like I was accomplished was when I moved to New York and I was like, ‘Wow, I did it!’ I couldn’t believe it. It was kind of like— because I had always been— like, you always grow up to fear New York, you know, because New York is so scary. And I was like, ‘No, I’m going to go and I’m going to do it and I’m going to work with these people that I want to work with.’ And when that happened, that was pretty accomplishing. You know, you feel like, ‘Wow!’ Or if you want to work with this particular magazine and you work with it, and you’re like, ‘Wow, I did it!’ You just feel really good. Certainly, before the shoot and then after the shoot.
Did you ever feel like there was a time of giving up? Was there ever a time when it was really difficult in your career, or have you just been lucky?
No. I think until you get to a certain point, you will think that everything was difficult. Because it’s like — just living in New York and being around so much amazing talent, you could literally feel insecure all the time, you know? And I think because I’ve been in the industry for about 15 years now, it’s not as bad as it was when I first started. But, yeah, I always have that thought in the back of my head like, ‘Why? Am I good?’ But the more you do it, the more secure you become and those questions aren’t as bad as they used to be.
Have you struggled in your career at all?
To be honest, I’ve always struggled with my accomplishments throughout my career. I’ve always dealt with imposter syndrome and wondered if one day “I’ll be found out.” This feeling tends to hold me back from what I can really accomplish but after hitting a certain age, this feeling has diminished immensely. I still struggle with it but not as much as before. I think a lot of artist tend to feel this way because they are sensitive to their craft.
That’s good to hear. I’ve always felt like I was the only one that felt that way of like, not like envious of my friends, but feeling like ‘Aw, man, I wish that happened to me’ kind of thing.
Yeah, I think everyone thinks that they’re alone in that thought process. The one thing I feel like, for me nowadays, is that I feel like people need to start telling the truth of their journey and anything that they’ve been through. I feel like a lot of people leave out certain parts of their journey, where, to me, it gives the illusion to other people like things just fell in their lap. And a lot of times, that just doesn’t happen. I think that’s the part that frustrates me the most — that people kind of give this illusion like things just fall into their laps or they haven’t worked hard to get something.
And it’s like, you are working hard out here. You’re competing with a ton of people. And I think sometimes that’s how a lot of people, especially in the creative industry —makeup artist industry, fashion industry, hair industry— that’s how a lot of people, I feel like, a lot of people suffer from depression because they just think that they’re never going to be good enough. Or they look over — especially nowadays, with the Instagram. People look to their left, they look to their right, when they need to be just looking forward. And once you look at all these other people doing all of this, quote-unquote, “big shit,” you know, it’s like you’re just sitting there like, ‘Oh, I’m never going to get to that point.’ When, at some point, you have got to put that phone down and you have got to stop looking at other people’s sites. A lot of times people are only posting good things. Stop looking at other people’s things and stop comparing yourself to other people because at the end of the day, you never know. You don’t know what they’re going through and they’re not presenting themselves in a truthful way. And don’t let it drive you crazy! This industry can drive you crazy, you know?
Oh, yeah, totally. You see all these celebrities that you think they have it all and they end up being really depressed or going off the deep end. So, it’s hard being a creative person.
I always tell people: you have got to protect your sanity out here. ‘Cause it’s hard to nowadays. But that’s definitely the big thing — protect your sanity. And if you know you’re looking at other people’s things on Instagram or looking at their Facebook or whatever and you feel like that’s driving you crazy, then stop. It’s not worth it.
As a Woman of Color, did you have any adversities that have come up in your career? What has been the toughest part in your job? Have there been opportunities that haven’t come your way that you might have felt like might have been based on who you were as a Woman of Color or anything?
Well, I would have to say that if they haven’t come my way, then I just don’t know. I will have to say that, yes, I have experienced things in the industry that haven’t been quite so kind or whatever, but I would have to say, that has kind of been few and far between. Only because I feel like the real people who are racist, you’re not ever going to know. Because you just won’t get a job. I was the only Black person on the crew. And it was certainly odd and I had to get used to being in that position. Even though, I feel like nowadays it’s really changing. Which I’m happy to see because before I would feel like a lot of people of color wouldn’t go after high-fashion. And when I say high-fashion I mean Vogue fashion, Italian Vogue fashion— I would never see people of color on those staffs. Or like W Magazine or V Magazine, it was not anything of the norm. Now I see people of color assisting artists and stuff and it makes me happy seeing that.
Yeah, that makes me happy to hear.
But before, it was literally me and maybe a sprinkle of other people of color going after that. Because even though Pat McGrath is definitely the top tier, she was like, literally, one of how many artists? One of, what, however many, and literally, she was the only person of color to get to that level. So, when you see that, you’re like ‘Wow!’
If you could give your 25-year-old self advice, what would it be?
I would say, honestly, if I could give my 25-year-old self advice, I would tell my 25-year-old self: Just go for it! A lot of people make fun of me because I always say, ‘Fuck them!’ But seriously— fuck them— because you just got to go hard in the paint for yourself. And a lot of times when we’re at that age, we don’t do that. We listen to the naysayers. We listen to the people who say ‘Oh, you’ll never be able to do that,’ or ’No, nobody’s doing that!’ And you can just get all wrapped up inside your head on things like that and that in itself will make you just be like, ‘Wow, I’ll never get where I need to go!’ And I’m not gonna lie— in this industry, I’ve suffered from that because you have so many people who are competing. And you just look around and you’re like, ‘Ugh, I’m never going to be on that level.’ And at some point, like now, looking back, I just was like I should’ve just been like ‘Fuck them, I’m gonna go and do me!'
Do you have three words of motivation for Pierre Into My Life's readers?
I will say dedication. I will say education because you constantly always want to get educated in your craft. You never are the top. You’ll never know every single thing. Dedication, Education, and… what’s the last word I’m looking for? Perseverance. Well, no, I think dedication and perseverance are in the same category. And faith! I would say faith, because you got to have that.
Yeah, you definitely have to have faith in yourself. And lastly, do you have three makeup tips to give my readers?
Ok! Number one— Instagram makeup is not for every single day, ok? Because the filters — you are not traveling around with filters every single day. But anyways, number two: I would say tone down the eyebrows… a little bit. I mean, I get it! I’m not mad. I’m not mad but just tone them down just a little bit. And number three would be: women of color can wear any color on their lip.
This interview has been edited and condensed.